Spolana management stripped of powers following chlorine leaks

Spolana, photo: CTK

A third degree chemical alert was announced on Friday in the town of Neratovice near Prague following an accident at the Spolana chemical plant in which several hundred kilograms of poisonous chlorine gas leaked into the air. This was the second leak in ten days and both times several hundred kilograms of chlorine were released. On top of that around 80 tons of fluid chlorine leaked into the river Elbe during the floods. Pavla Horakova has more.

spolana, photo: CTK
Spolana, which is owned by the state-controlled conglomerate Unipetrol, has posed a major environmental risk since raging waters hit the plant during the recent floods. It holds large amounts of lethal chemicals and operated for dozens of years under lax communist-era standards. For years now the plant has been the target of environmentalist pressure groups which said its chemical stocks were not sufficiently protected against - for example - floods.

On Saturday Interior Minister Stanislav Gross stripped Spolana's management of their powers following widespread criticism of their poor handling of the situation. Spolana's parent company Unipetrol will now run operations at the plant. Pavel Svarc is the chief executive officer of Unipetrol. He says the situation at Spolana is now under control.

spolana, photo: CTK
"The situation at Spolana is stable, that means the remaining reserves of chlorine are under control and we're preparing the final disposal of the rest. There are no external leaks and our measurements show zero readings in the vicinity of the plant."

Friday's accident claimed no human casualties and experts say the concentration of chlorine did not pose any threat to the health of people in the area. However wild plants and also crops in the fields surrounding the plant were damaged or killed as the gas burnt their leaves. Local farmers will not be able to grow anything on the contaminated fields for many years. Local authorities in the area are considering calling on the management of the plant to resign. They also want the plant to introduce tougher security measures and improve the alert system. Not only is the plant is a cause for concern for the Czech Republic, neighbouring Germany too, is worried as the river Elbe may bring hazardous chemical waste from Spolana into the country.